July 18, 2016

Compassion: I Saw What You Did Last Summer and Videotaped It on My iPhone

Here's a theory: The reason we look back at our teen years with such longing is that this was the exact time when the polarity became clear. By which I mean, this is the age at which we realized that there is an "us" versus "them" at play in the world and while now, as adults, we pretend that there isn't, maybe in truth, there really is. Maybe nostalgia is just missing our own ability to accept a debilitating truth. We like to look back fondly on simplicity over recognizing its continuity; we'd prefer to retreat from acknowledging a wrong-and-right morality because owning it would require us to take a stand. There really are good guys and bad guys, bullies and victims, alpha dogs and runts in the litter, enemies and advocates. That's one thought that came from watching Compassion, writer-director Shin Sung-sub's straightforward drama about a bright, high-school student named Ha-na (Lee Cheong-mi) who suddenly discovers the world around her is populated by a shrewish mother (Jang Seo-i), a wife-beating father (Jang Woo-jin), a superficial best friend (Lee Soo-yeon), and a mean girl (Jeong Seong-hee) who's threatening to release a graphic cell-phone video of a statutory rape that Ha-na survived but can't remember. Human beings are despicable. Well, most of them, anyway.

The two exceptions are a classmate (Jo Jeong-yoon) and a teacher (Jeong Mi-seong). The former is a singer-songwriter who's been abandoned by his parents and now cashiers at a donut shop and delivers newspapers to make ends meet. The latter is a member of a Christian support group, and has some guilt to be worked through regarding another student who killed herself earlier in the year. Far be it from me to belittle an ethical Christianity but watching Compassion, I could easily picture a gloomier outcome if Fate hadn't intervened as well as this couple of do-gooders from a The Church of Good Works. I guess we can only do our part and it's our job to do it. Change starts here. You can either fight the good fight or exit among the beaten.

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